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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

Tennessee Williams' Texas Director

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Without the interest of an East Texas woman, American theater icon Tennessee Williams might still be writing high school plays in a small town.

In the summer of 1942, theater director Margaret Virginia (Margo) Jones, a lawyer's daughter from Livingston in Polk County, was a drama instructor at the University of Texas in Austin. Leaving New York on her way back to Texas, agent Audrey Wood thrust a script into her hands and suggested she read it.

On the train ride to Texas, Jones read the script, "Band of Angels" by the then unknown Williams.

Fascinated by his talent, Jones turned her considerable drive to Williams' writing career and, at the same time, began focusing on her new theater venue in Dallas, Theater 47, where she produced a Williams play, "Summer and Smoke."

The Dallas production brought Broadway's attention to Williams and led the blossoming playwright to coin the term "Texas Tornado," in reference to Jones. The nickname was indicative of Jones' strong personality and the fact that she was one of the first women to handle both the producing and directing sides of theater productions.

In June, before "Summer and Smoke" opened in Dallas, Jones summoned Williams to the city. Williams, however, did not want to go because he believed that his "unconventional private life" would not be appreciated in Dallas. Jones managed to persuaded him to come to Dallas only after the play had closed.

When Jones signed the deal for "Summer and Smoke" in Williams' New Orleans apartment, she only had the legal rights for the Dallas production. To get the rights for the Broadway production, Jones offered Williams several things no one else had. She promised "to protect him as would no other producer," she said she had a "greater understanding" of Williams work, and said Williams was "unable to deny my passion and dedication for the play." He granted her the rights.

Jones directed two other Williams plays, which encouraged her work in a production called "The Gentlemen Caller," which would eventually become "The Glass Menagrie" in 1945. She served as assistant director of the play when it came to Broadway, but she directed most of the production when the director, Eddie Dowling, wanted to take an actor's role in the play.

The success of Williams' play not only made him a household word in America, but established Jones as a director on Broadway.

In his autobiography, Williams disclosed that he did not like the work Margo Jones did on the Broadway production of "Summer and Smoke," but he never told her during her lifetime. The New York production strained their friendship and even resulted in a legal battle over royalties. The critics were divided over the play.

At the time of her death in 1955, Margo Jones and Tennessee Williams had changed the face of theater not only in Texas, but nationally as well.

Margo was buried in her hometown cemetery at Livingston and on April 26 the Texas Historical Commission and Polk County Historical Commission placed a state marker on her grave.
All Things Historical -
May 29, 2006 Column
Published with permission
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a past president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)

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